"Our battle is not against human forces but against the principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness, the evil spirits in regions above." —Ephesians 6:12
"The whole of man's history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day." —Catechism of the Catholic Church, 409
Although the Lord reveals to us in His word that we are in a spiritual war, most Christians don't seem to take this very seriously. How much do you hear about spiritual warfare from the pulpit? If you brought up spiritual warfare in your parish council meetings, what would be the reaction? A few Christians try to "push" spiritual warfare, but they are usually dismissed as "fundamentalist" and not given a hearing. Consequently, many Christians give little thought to the Biblical revelation that we are in a war against evil spirits, and of course they're very likely to lose a war that they don't believe they're in.
"The thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy." —John 10:10
One reason people find it difficult to take spiritual warfare seriously is that they don't seem to be experiencing a war, although they do have many troubles. War connotes armies, defined battlefronts, and military weapons. However, spiritual warfare is a different kind of war. It is not just different because evil spirits are invisible and also much more powerful than human beings. Rather, almost all the dynamics of spiritual warfare are different than those of conventional warfare. Possibly the closest thing we have to spiritual warfare is what military strategists call "low-intensity conflict" (LIC). "LIC is thought of as giving terrorists a dose of their own medicine with disinformation, sabotage, death squads, hit men, assassinations, planting bombs in buildings, killing civilians and generally destabilizing communities" ("A Different Kind of War" by Jeff Marishane, Catholic Worker, June-July, 1992; reprinted from Challenge, Johannesburg, South Africa). The immediate aim of LIC is "not a military victory but destabilization" (ibid).
After the enemy has suffered so much confusion, chaos, and trauma for an extended time, it may be willing to compromise and pay any price, even the price of its freedom, to bring an end to the hell it is living in.
SPIRITUAL WARFARE IN THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES
"There is One greater in you than there is in the world." —1 John 4:4
LIC is similar to what the Lord means in the Bible by spiritual warfare and what Christians experience in their daily lives. Acts of the Apostle illustrates this:
- disinformation—Acts 2:13. At Pentecost, the disciples were accused of being drunk.
- arresting leaders—Acts 4:3. Peter and John were arrested and threatened.
- torture—Acts 5:40. The Apostles were whipped.
- factions—Acts 6:1. Greek-speaking Christians "complained that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food, as compared with the widows of those who spoke Hebrew."
- slander—Acts 6:11-12. Those who opposed Stephen "persuaded some men to make the charge that they had heard him speaking blasphemies against Moses and God."
- inciting a riot and murdering a Christian leader—Acts 7:54-60. A mob went berserk, and stoned Steven to death.
- harassment and terrorism—Acts 8:3. Saul "entered house after house, dragged men and women out, and threw them into jail."
- another murder of a Christian leader—Acts 12:2. Herod beheaded James.
- dissension and controversy—Acts 15:2. This controversy about circumcision and salvation was probably the greatest spiritual attack on the early Church.
You can list several other possible examples of spiritual warfare in Acts and in other parts of the Bible. Not all the examples listed above are definitely examples of spiritual warfare, but as a whole they show that LIC is something like the type of war Christians experience in spiritual warfare.
In America we may not have experienced torture, arrest, or murder, but we are drowning in disinformation, slander, harassment, and dissension. The Christian community is severely destabilized by denominations, divisions, unforgiveness, rebelliousness, ignorance of the Church's teachings, family breakdown, divorce and secular humanism. Satan has destabilized us, and many Christians have compromised with the world.
However, LIC was not successful against the early Church. Saul was converted; Peter and the other apostles became great and courageous leaders; Herod died; many enemies of the Church became Christians; Jewish and Gentile Christians forgave and loved each other. Luke announced the Church's amazing victory: "Meanwhile throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria the church was at peace. It was being built up and was making steady progress in the fear of the Lord; at the same time it enjoyed the increased consolation of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 9:31). The Church was not destabilized but strengthened!
ORDER AND ACTION
"Make sure everything is done properly and in order." —1 Corinthians 14:40
"I am with you in spirit, happy to see good order among you and the firmness of your faith in Christ" —Colossians 2:5
If Satan's first goal in spiritual warfare is destabilization of the Christian community, we must establish order in our Christian community. "Since God is a God, not of confusion, but of peace" (1 Cor 14:33), we must:
- be careful not to offend others unnecessarily (2 Cor 6:3).
- emphasize forgiving each other (see Mt 18:22).
- strengthen our unity by insisting on obedience to our leaders (Heb 13:17).
- teach people not to believe everything they hear (e.g. 2 Thes 2:2).
- teach people how to talk in the context of spiritual warfare (see Eph 4:29).
- teach the Biblical ways to deal with conflict (Mt 18:15-20).
- teach and pastor to promote good order in relationships (see Eph 5:21; 6:9).
A community that is ordered according to God's word will not be easily destabilized.
Finally, spiritual warfare is not primarily a defensive war. We don't just prevent destabilization and compromise, but we attack the gates of hell (see Mt 16:18), resist the devil and make him flee from us (Jas 4:7), and bring down his strongholds and sophistries (see 2 Cor 10:4). When we are being attacked (especially if some destabilization has occurred), we're tempted not to go on the offensive. However, we should be active in evangelization, reconciliation, healing, deliverance, prayer, and fasting. When we are neither destabilized nor paralyzed, we will not compromise with the evil one and the forces of secular humanism, we will be "more than conquerors because of Him Who has loved us" (Rm 8:37). We "will quickly crush Satan" under our feet (Rm 16:20).
Nihil obstat: Reverend Ralph J. Lawrence, December 5, 1998.
Imprimatur: † Most Reverend Carl K. Moeddel, Vicar General and Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, December 9, 1998.